Friday, May 25, 2018

Fort Mackinac {Favorite Finds Friday}

Last summer I had the chance to spend three full days on Mackinac Island, Michigan.  It was my first visit to this lovely place and I have to admit I found it, well, magical.   There are many places to fall in love with on this 3.7 square mile island, but as is typical for me, I was most smitten with the Islands largest historic site, Fort Mackinac. 

When I was a young child my mother would fill long summer days by making tours of our local surroundings, stopping at any place that seemed even remotely interesting: small museums, a nearby mining town turned visitor destination and of course parks and lakes and sometimes the playground by the river where we could also feed the ducks.  We thrived on day trips and I learned almost by default that connection to place was gained through experiencing nature and history.  I suppose I had a predisposition to the nerdy love of looking at old farm implements though the glass walls of a display case and asking volunteer docents where the bathroom was located in a nineteenth century farm house.  But even if that is true, my mother’s resourcefulness and eagerness to get out and see something instilled in me a lifelong wanderlust that continues only to be satisfied by a breath of fresh air and a good dose of the past.  In early college when my sister and I began making our own summer road trips from our home in Southern Oregon to visit aunts, uncles and cousins in Southern California, I easily fell into the role of instigator and tour guide, always eager to stop at some old place along the way.  My sister, not nearly as keen as I, humored me most of the time, biting her tongue when we stopped at coastal missions and took detours down defunct main street strips.   

Today I am the mom who takes the detour and makes sure we stop at the local museum or walk through the natural history exhibit in a visitor center.  I want my children to grow up with a curiosity about where they are, what a place was before they witnessed it and why that matters.  The facts are the basic ones these days, age appropriate for three kids under ten. But as I have learned it is not necessarily the details of a place that stay with us, but the experience of it.  So that is why with only three days to experience everything Mackinac has to offer I made sure we spent one of those afternoons wandering the fort’s historic grounds; that, and because I will always be a history nerd at heart.     

Fort Macinac is a late eighteenth century military post that in 1875 became part of the Nation’s second national park, Mackinac Island National Park, commissioned just three years after Yellowstone.  It was built by the French in the late eighteenth century during the height of the great lakes fur trading era and was held by the British during the Revolutionary War, not surrendered to the U.S. until nearly twenty years after the new nation was officially formed.  Over the next century the fort made its transition from military stronghold to tourist attraction.  In 1895 the twenty year old national park was decommissioned at the request of Michigan’s then governor and became Mackinac State Park, Michigan’s first state park. 

The fort’s collection of historic buildings, which includes the oldest standing building in the state of Michigan have been restored to the appearance of the grounds during their final years of military occupation.  They represent a decisive era in early American history and tell the story of those on both sides of the walls.  The grounds offer interpretive and interactive experiences for visitors of any age.  On a visit to the island it should not be missed.   

Below is a photo tour from our afternoon visit in late July of last year.  Follow along using a map of the grounds, here

Thanks for joining me!

Fort Mackinac from Marquette Park 

Entrance to the front gates of the park, known as the south sally port, from Marquette park overlooking Lake Michigan

Ramp leading from Marquette park to the south sally port

18. South Sally Port,
One of the fort's original features constructed more than 225 years ago

7. Soldiers barracks, 1859

Wooden boardwalks connect the past and the buildings that tell its story.

20. East blockhouse,1798
A fortified lookout post with a view of Lake Michigan and the Straights of Mackinac, a strategic point of defense

12. The west blockhouse, 1798 
and two of my little explorers 

View looking east toward the straights of Mackinac the fort's primary defense point, today it overlooks a thriving tourist community

View looking north east across Marquette park onto Lake Michigan 

22. Parade grounds, 
open space at the center of the grounds as it looked in the 1890s

Daily reenactments demonstrate life and training at the fort 

14. Officers Stone Quarters, 1780
Interactive exhibits for children are presented within the buildings historic walls, making history tangible for young visitors.  The Kids Quarters are housed in the old Officers Stone Quarters, the oldest standing building in the state of Michigan.

14. Officers Stone Quarters, 1780
The Officers Stone Quarters, constructed in 1780, is the oldest standing building in the state of Michigan, a photograph above a fireplace illustrates the daily scene in the late 1880s.  For over one hundred years officers and their families occupied this building as their domestic quarters.

14. Officers Stone Quarters, 1780
Living room in the Officers Stone Quarters as it would have looked in the 1880s

9. Post School House, 1879
Children of those stationed at the fort were provided an education within its walls

5. North sally port, 1875
Visiting a historic site can leave us with the impression that a place always functioned as a finished whole, static in time, designed to serve a specific function.  But this is rarely an accurate reflection of sites that more often than not were transformed over time to meet changing needs.  Fort Mackinac is no exception. 

3. Quartermasters Storehouse, 1860
The exhibits in the old store house likely represent a scene much lovelier than what one would have encountered in the hustle and bustle of a nineteenth century fort commissary, but I found this modest presentation to be so engaging, I was left considering the space long after I left it.

3. Quartermasters Storehouse, 1860

Looking across the Parade grounds toward the officers quarters, with Lake Michigan and the Straights beyond

17. Guard House, 1828
Exhibits in this modest building tell the story of court proceedings and jailings at the fort

17. Guard House, 1828
Name and date carved in a wooden windowsill by a prisoner in 1889

Wherever it is you wander, remember to take a few steps into the past.

With gratitude,

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

travel sketches: crossing the country in a few lines a day, part 1

Preparing for the coming summers travel always spurs me to look back on our past trips.  In such a mood I recently read my travel journals from the last two summers, 2016 and 2017.  For the most part my daily entries were brief and sketchy, written at night after the kids were asleep or scrolled in shaky pen, an attempt to get down a few words during our days drive.  I can recall that many of these entries felt underwheling at best and likely of little future interest, if not eloquent or more profoundly reflective what value did they have.  But I wrote them anyway.  And as I read them almost two years later I discovered that recollections in any form have the power and privilege of transporting.  Words that I thought simple meant so much because of the memories they conjured.  And I found too that many passages were far more eloquent than I had believed them to be and those that were simple were poignant too because of their honesty and immediacy.  Below are a few lines from each day of our summer travels during the summer of 2016 the lines that speak to me now because of or despite their eloquence.

Summer 2016

July 7, 2016 (Poplar Grove, IL to Sioux Falls, SD)

The kids played and swam and we played together…bedtime not too early and not too late.  No campfire.  Us four adults sat in lawn chairs and talked for about an hour.  We laughed and joked.  It is good to have friends.

July 8, 2016 (Sioux Falls, SD to Badlands National Park, SD)

I notice repeatedly our fellow travelers on the highway.  Trucks towing fifth-wheels and tiny sedans with New York license plates packed so the windows are full and I think back to college when that was me, and I think about all we have in common on the road… Mile after mile the landscape passes in the same low undulating pattern, green prairie, sometimes dotted by rolls of still green hay, sometimes cattle. 

July 9, 2016 (Badlands National Park, SD to Black Hills National Forest, SD)

The Black Hills rose abruptly from the western prairie.  We entered them through Rapid City, climbing quickly after a rain shower; the smell of the pine forest was enchanting and brought tears to my eyes. 

July 10, 2016 (Black Hills National Forest, SD to Buffalo, WY)

We painstakingly completed the Junior Ranger workbooks at Jewel Cave National Monument.  And all six, that is sixty toes, were sworn in as Junior Rangers and all received badges.  The effort was more than worth it when we watched them, all standing together with their right hands raised promising to protect this park and all natural places.

July 11, 2016 (Buffalo, WY to Cody, WY)

As we neared the latter portion of our drive sheer rock faces began to reveal themselves: the Big Horn Mountains.  We were met by rich colors and an expansive view that was quite simply, overwhelming.  We have now driven nearly a thousand miles and the single constant we have encountered is change.  The land changes subtly at times, moving gradually from prairie to precipice, or it can change almost without warning, sheer cliffs seeming to bound forth from the landscape.   I have driven across this country before, but these miles have brought me to humility and reverence in the face of a vastness that our eyes cannot measure.  Grand places stand before us as if they were finished presentations, complete works for us to enjoy.  But change is the constant in the natural world and everything beneath and before us is changing at this moment and each moment that came before and that will come after.  No, grandness was not made for us; we are the privileged ones, to live at this moment to witness it.  

July 12, 2016 (Cody, WY to Yellowstone National Park)

It is Yellowstone day!  There is nothing to say about Yellowstone National Park that has not already been said of its beauty, its vastness, its wonder.  For me, entering this place was the realization of a life long obsession.  For all of my conscious memory I have wanted to visit Yellowstone National Park.  This desire was the making of Frances Joyce Farnsworth’s sweet little book Cubby in Wonderland and my mother’s reading  of it to me with such a beautiful sense of wonder and imagination.

July 13, 2016 (Yellowstone National Park)

It is fourteen miles from the west entrance of the park at West Yellowstone, MT where we are camped, to Madison Junction inside the park, where you turn left to the northeast or right to the southern portion of the Grand Loop road and Lower, Midway and Upper Geyser Basins.  Our drive in today was uneventful, but as we entered the geyser basin region the traffic and population of visitors exploded. 

July 14, 2016 (Yellowstone National Park)

Sitting in a line of stopped cars, I brought out Cubby in Wonderland and started reading the chapters about places we have already visited in the park.  We stopped at a pull out and saw a family of Elk crossing a river behind a herd of grazing bison.  We spotted an Eagle and ate lunch at the edge of a meadow.  Later in the day we walked the wooden boardwalks around Mammoth Hot Springs and we were stunned.  This is my favorite place among those we have visited in the park.  We had dinner in the lodge and made it back to the campground in time for a fire with friends.  It was our last night together. 

July 15, 2016 (West Yellowstone, MT to Jackson, WY)

Yellowstone was a wonder, but Grand Teton feels like paradise.

The Chapel of the Transfiguration was my grandmother’s favorite place in the Tetons. Seeking it out was a kind of pilgrimage, an homage to her that became transcendent for me.  I do not have words to capture the experience of my visiting.  Peace is palpable here.  My eyes filled with tears and I continued to cry feeling overcome with emotion.  This tiny chapel is a lens.  The natural world is so immense, so much bigger than us in every scope and yet this tiny place guides us to be bigger. 

July 16, 2016 (Jackson, WY to Boise, ID)

We left the campground at 11:30 am, driving out on highway 26 along the Snake River through the Targee National Forest.  Slowly the road evened out and we entered fields flanked on both sides by low hills.  Miles and miles of wheat fields line the road, bright green that spans out across the valley to the foothills.  Elton John’s County Comfort on the radio seems the perfect soundtrack. 

We have traveled 2,000 miles and this has been our first long, dare I say boring, driving day.  Eastern Idaho is flat golden prairie spotted with sagebrush, a muted green that blends into the monotony.  But the kids are traveling so well.

July 17, 2016 (Boise, ID to Bend, OR)

We arrived in Bend in mid-afternoon.  On the eastern side of the Cascade mountain range the Oregon landscape seems otherworldly compared to the rolling mountains and lush forests of the Cascades and coastal range.  As a youth I did not have very much appreciation for this seemingly barren land, drier and browner than the thick river valley surrounds of our home site.  But driving through it now I was struck time and again by its arid beauty and ever-changing terrain; state highway 26 gracefully guiding us through it.  Of course today was poignant for another reason: it marked the first time I have returned to my home state in four years.  Any inch of Oregon would have felt like heaven today.

July 18, 2016 (Bend, OR)

We are camping two nights near Bend in La Pine State Park situated in the exquisite old-growth Deschutes National Forest.  This is my favorite campsite yet on our trip.

On day two we went to the Newberry Crater Visitor Center and learned about volcanic activity from a very cool park ranger talking over a relief map.  Late in the afternoon on Tuesday the 19th we headed farther west to Grants Pass.  We passed through the heart of the Rouge River-Siskiyou National Forest nearly bordering Crater Lake on Highway 62.  Growing up this was my favorite drive; the highway closely lined with immense Douglas Firs creates a passage that is almost transcendent.  If there is a heaven, this passage would be my tunnel of light.


For reasons I won’t speculate about here, this is where my journal ends, although our trip lasted another two weeks and took us to some our yet to be favorite places.  The Redwood forest of northern California, the California coast highway, Disneyland, Zion National Park, the Rocky Mountains and finishing with a long two day drive across the planes of Nebraska and Iowa to return home.  I wish I could read the words I would have written in those places.

With gratitude,


Friday, March 2, 2018

Morning Sketches

I recently discovered that during the past year, 2017, I inadvertently kept a record of our changing seasons from the early morning vantage of my dining room table.  This is a sampling of those reflections taken from my daily journal and reflected upon again.  

March 7.

It is morning again and the wind is strong.  Out my window, thin bark on the birch trunks flap like feathers in the moving air.  They twitch so constantly that they seem almost to be glistening.  Now the sun has crested the roofline of my neighbor’s house and a small shadow falls from my hand onto the paper that is receiving these words.  In this new light the feathery bark glistens stronger and in new tones of tan.  It is lovely and I could watch it for a long time.  A gray line moves in the sky and I recognize it for diluting my hands shadow and dimming the dancing tree feathers.  It will pass and another will come and such will be the backdrop of our day.

March 8.

The wind is with us again, loud.  I hear it in the chimney, up it roars and then fades and comes back more slight, and on and on.  I see its evidence as green tips swirl in unison across the yard and in the ever dancing motion of the birch bark.  The sun joins us, and hope.  Hope for a day with more of its rays.  The sun reveals smudges and dust; the windows need to be washed.  And it reveals the perfect green of the aloe plant sitting on their sill.  I never think to wash my windows, distracted by all of the beauty on the other side of them – what is the meaning of a pane of glass in between?  And I suppose I will go on this way – too wrapped in the movement of the wind and the rays of the sun to mind too much the dust and debris that settle in their midst.

March 11.

I have been lucky each morning this week to have the bright light of the sun streaming in the windows when I sit down to write.  I am lucky again today.  Some may say blessed rather than lucky, but I know that the sun does not shine down in this spot just for me.  It is I who is privileged to be alive in this spot at this moment to witness and feel the sun.  The blessing is not that the sun is here for me, but that I am here at all.

March 21.

Good morning spring!  You snuck up on me this year.  Your warmth took me by surprise, you are teasing us, but I will laugh along with you.  I will laugh in the frigid breeze still blowing though your bright rays.  And I will laugh when the snow flurries come and dot the roofs and greening grass.  I will laugh when my children run through that green with bare toes that will chill too quickly.  They will laugh, not dreaming of warmer grass, but relishing these blades.  

April 9.

Good morning.  Good morning.  Pen in hand is how I wish always to meet the day.  Waiting for the trickle or the waves of words to come.  I am happy always with the simple flowing stream, breaking and churning against the stones in its path.  The stones too are part of the path.

May 18.

I am paralyzed by possibility so I think I will sit down and write.  Pen on paper always users clarity, gives me purpose, empties me without guilt or question or doubt.  It just is.  I just am.  I just am, when there is a pen in my hand.

June 11.

The leaves play in the morning light and their moving shadows are cast on my table.  I hear a lone bird chirping, I am too late for the chorus.  I can almost hear the leaves moving against each other, but mostly I imagine their sound through my looking.  This is the second day of the wind.  It is strong, but not so strong that it has given up play.

July 24.

I am back at my table, a constant.  The morning is surprisingly cool for a July day and the patio door is open.  The engine turns, a surprise I was expecting.  I listen to the engine cycle up and down and I wait for the change that signals movement.  Brief glimpses of sunshine bring immediate comfort, she signals the clear sky.

November 5.

I sat down this morning with the expectation of a winters view; but instead I was surprised by an abundance of green layers still hugging the other side of the windowpanes.

November 6.

It looks uncomfortable outside, but here I go.  I want to learn friendship with the cold.

December 30.

The blanket of snow laying across our backyard transitions from smooth to broken, marking places untouched and those where we ran and played.  Today the sky is blue and crisp; the suns rays brightly illuminating the white world.  Everything is clear when the sun shines down on snow. 

December 31.

The sun is with us as we close the year, shining crisp shadows.  It prompts small shadows falling from waves in the snow and grander shadows that reach out across them, spanning the yard.  It is too cold for bird song this morning.  The air is still and silent except for the quivering of branches in a soft breeze.  Their movement too is captured by slight shadows, gray and acute on the frozen white surface. 

The air is sharp against my face as I stand in my snowy yard watching the puppy and hoping he will complete his task before he becomes too cold to walk in the snow.  For no other reason would I be standing in my yard, in the snow, in a subzero temperature at eight o’clock on a Sunday morning.  I feel the sting on my face and I trace the shadows with my watering eyes and I am not sure I have ever been so thankful to be uncomfortable. 

With gratitude,

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Digging Nightshades

There is something particularly rewarding about pulling a thing from the ground that you planted and that will subsequently offer you nourishment.  My garden is somewhat of a wild experiment (more on that here). There are staples I always rely on; tomatoes, asparagus, squash.  But once they are accounted for there is always room for something new, something I did not plan for.  This year it was potatoes.   I planted them for the first time this spring, on a whim, at the recommendation of my cousin who is brilliant with anything that carries roots and always willing to take a chance.  Try them she urged, its no big deal! 

I have been intimidated by the prospect of growing potatoes for years, but her words at last gave me the motivation to commit space in my garden to the project.  Last week my reward was discovered.  I had been watching the once supple greens begin to diminish; knowing the time to check them was coming near.  The first cluster pulled easily from the ground, and I have to admit, I have never been so excited about potatoes!  My young son joined the endeavor and we dug for potatoes as if they were treasure, dirt clinging to their soft skins.  He has never been so excited about potatoes. 

What felt like a risk just a few months ago now feels like an accomplishment.  And it reminded that each of my stables was at one time planted for the first time.  And at the start of each new season they are planted for the first time again, along side whatever variety holds the place of this year’s experiment.  All of it is unknown and rewarding. 

To finish the season I am taking a chance again.  That bag of fingerlings that had started to sprout in my pantry was cut up and sewn into the ground.  They may or may not have time to mature before our season fully turns the corner, but I am willing to give it a try.

So whatever it is that you have been wanting to try...Go for it, its no big deal!

With gratitude,


{Crafted by the Seasons} follow the story, here

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Saturday, August 26, 2017

Wild Things {Crafted by the Seasons}

I learned to love wild things from my mother; mountains, forests, a late night unnecessarily rearranging household furniture and the manner of my gardening. 

I always plan to plan my garden.  Early in the season I have high expectations for how organized I will be, how much research I will do and how much more I will learn before the seeds and starts touch the soil.  I am sure I will be more ordered and more intentional than I was the year before.  But this is not the way of it. 

I often start well, I write down varieties and planting dates.  I plan for phase two.  And then slowly I drift from the plan, I spot a new variety at the garden center, I can’t help myself at the herb farm. Excitement takes over.  This year my cousin suggested potatoes and I thought, yes, at last I will try them!  And I did.  My garden becomes a mix of things I planned and those that planned for me.  And again we settle into the pattern that leads us every year, a relationship that begs me wonder who is guiding who. 

For long periods, in Midwest garden years, my garden grows itself.  Watered on hot summer days by the neighbor’s daughter when we are away.  When I return my garden is wild in a new way.  It is a wild combination of things I planted and things I did not.  All if it is tall and lush and entangled.  I look at it and sigh, chiding myself a little, and then I climb inside and everything changes.  I pull and dig, my knees grow dirty and my fingernails worse.  I build big piles of things called weeds and then I stand back and look and I sigh again, this time with satisfaction.  Residing together are small weeds, previously unseen beneath the overgrowth, lush canopies shielding squash that should have been picked last week, and the first glimpse of red on a tomato.  The arugula is flowering, which means I missed its harvest, but I leave the blossoms to themselves, they are as lovely as their leaves are tasty. 

I am a life long amateur gardener.   Maybe I enjoy the surprises too much to learn more about the details or maybe it is just not in my makeup to follow an organized plan.  I think both are true.  I have learned that my garden is a teacher, a place with more wisdom than I.  My garden has taught me that I love the freedom of process, of watching, of being a participant.  It has taught me to marvel at the power inside a tiny seed.  And it gives me a place where I reconcile with myself.  I love my garden wild.  It invites me to embrace and sometimes forgive my own wild places. 

With gratitude,


{Crafted by the Seasons} follow the story here

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Thursday, August 17, 2017

Basil Ice Cream, a Recipe {Crafted by the Seasons}

Basil is a favorite herb for many of us.  Its sweet yet bold flavor and aroma can lend freshness to so many dishes.  It is in full abundance this time of year and this week we are using it to make ice cream.  Making ice cream is a fun and gratifying process that yields its own reward, that is, well, ice cream!  Chef Mike Hofmann at Hotel Washington is sharing his own recipe for a basil infused ice cream that is a full feast for the senses.  Whether making ice cream is a summer ritual for you or you are attempting it for the first time this is a recipe that is sure to delight. 

{ basil ice cream }

Total time: up to 12 hours (depending on chilling and ice cream machine)
Active time: 45 minutes
Enjoy: with a spoon and good company

1/2 quart heavy cream
1 ½  quart whole milk
1 ½ cup sugar
15 egg yolk
8 ounce whole fresh basil
1 pinch of salt
1 squosh vanilla 

{ you will also need }

medium saucepan
large stock pot (will be used to create a steam bath)
large mixing bowl
food processor
ice cream maker
measuring cups and spoons 

{ make }

Add ¾ cup of sugar and basil (leaves and stems) to food processor.  Pulse until just blended, pieces of basil will remain.  Set aside.

Separate egg white* and yolk, retain yolks in large mixing bowl.  By hand or in a stand mixer, whisk yolks until they are fully combined and begin to pale in color.

Add sugar and basil mixture and continue to whisk until fully incorporated.  Set aside.  

Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, combine cream, milk and remaining sugar; scold on high heat.  Remove from heat.

Add cream and milk mixture to egg mixture by a slow drizzle making sure to incorporate slowly so as not to cook yoke.  Stir until just combined.

In the mean time, bring a large stock pot of water to a boil.  Place mixing bowl containing egg and dairy mixture onto the steaming pot to create a steam bath.  

Stir continuously with a rubber spatula until desired thickness is reached; reduce heat if granules start to appear.  Keep over heat until drips of custard create an outline when falling back into pot, approximately 15 minutes.

Pour mixture through a fine strainer to remove basil pieces.  You may need to strain multiple times to remove all basil bits.  

Place mixture in refrigerator uncovered until fully chilled, up to overnight.

Add chilled mixture to ice cream machine, and follow directions for ice cream machine.

Custard will spin for approximately 20 to 40 minutes depending on your machine.

{ Enjoy! }

And there you have it, you made ice cream! It will keep in your freezer for up to three months. 

Cheers and gratitude,

Mike and Jo

* A note on eggs: egg whites can be retained in the refrigerator for up to three days, use them in an additional recipe.  Egg shells can be added to compost or used a variety of ways in the garden, a resource we like here.

{Crafted by the Seasons}  follow the story, here

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